The weekend of June 23, 1995, was one of the best weekends of my teenage life. I managed to eke my way out of Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park, NY. In high school, I was known as a guy who loved his sports. A quarter-century later, I still love sports and I especially love the New Jersey Devils. On Friday of that weekend, I graduated from high school. On Saturday, I worked most of the day. But that night was game four of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final. The heavily-favored Detroit Red Wings galloped to the Final from the Western Conference but out of the Eastern Conference were the Cinderella Devils. As I reminisce about this time of my life, I decided to take the time to write about the team that fueled my love for hockey.
The New Jersey Devils looked to rebound from the sting of losing in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final. But a lockout by league owners delayed the start of the season for three months. Only a last-minute agreement saved the season. The 1995 season began in January and the Devils got off to a slow start. Halfway through the season, the Devils were out of playoff contention. But the team made several impactful moves before the trade deadline. The team gelled and the Devils won 13 of their final 24 games to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Path to the Stanley Cup Final
The 1995 New Jersey Devils went 8-2 in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, disposing of Boston and Pittsburgh each in five games. They faced division rival Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final. After four games, the series was tied at two. Near the end of game five, forward Claude Lemieux inserted the dagger with 45 seconds remaining.
The Flyers never recovered and the Devils took game six. Twelve seasons after Dr. John McMillen relocated the franchise from Denver, the Devils were going to their first Stanley Cup Final.
New Jersey faced their toughest opponent in the Stanley Cup Final: the Detroit Red Wings. The Red Wings advanced by losing a total of TWO games in the Western Conference side of the bracket. Coached by Scotty Bowman, Detroit had several future Hall of Famers on their team, including Steve Yzerman, Paul Coffey, and Nick Lidstrom. The Red Wings were the heaviest of favorites going into the Stanley Cup Final. The Eastern Conference champions, though, shocked the favorites in game one. Lemieux duplicated his heroics from the previous round, scoring the game-winning goal in the third period as the Devils hung on for the 2-1 win.
Game two started at a more urgent pace as each team scored in the first period. Nearing the end of the second period, Detroit forward Viktor Kozlov skated with the puck down the left side and Devils defenseman Scott Stevens… well, I’ll let the clip below speak for itself.
The Red Wings scored early in the third with a power-play goal but the Devils tied the game midway through the third. Devils defenseman Scott Niedermayer provided the most memorable goal in the series.
The dagger came with 1:24 remaining when Devils forward – and New Jersey native! – Jim Dowd tucked in a rebound from defenseman Shawn Chambers. The Devils took a 2-0 series back to the crib and they weren’t coming back.
Game three was played on the first official day of Summer, the first time ever a Stanley Cup Final match would be played this late. Riding a 2-0 series lead, the Devils looked to tighten their grip on the series. That they did, as five different players scored goals on their way to a dominant 5-2 win. During the series, numerous rumors circulated that the Devils were seeking to relocate to Nashville. As fans reveled at Brendan Byrne Arena, they mocked the Detroit tradition of the octopus throw and threw fish on the ice. One of those fish came with the message, “Nashville Sucks.”
“The championship to New Jersey! The Devils win the Stanley Cup!”
Game four started at a frenetic pace as the Devils scored just 1:08 into the game on a goal by Neal Broten. The Red Wings answered with two goals of their own, including a shorthanded goal by Coffey. But with 2:15 remaining in the opening salvo, Chambers tied the game at two. At the 12:05 mark of the second, Broten scored what would be the Cup-winning goal.
The Devils put the game away in the final period with goals by rookie forward Sergei Brylin and Chambers. Head coach Jacques Lemaire’s squad suffocated the visiting Red Wings by allowing only one shot on goal in the third period. New Jersey celebrated their first Stanley Cup win with a four-game sweep over the best team in hockey in 1995. Lemieux, the pest, earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP. And here’s the call from the American Voice of Hockey, Mike “Doc” Emerick.
How Unique Was This Team?
The 1995 New Jersey Devils were one of the most fascinating teams to ever win a Stanley Cup title. They were the first Stanley Cup-winning team to feature primarily American-born players with 13 on the roster. Lou Lamoriello became the second American-born general manager to win a Stanley Cup. The Devils also became the first team ever to win 10 road playoff games. One of those road playoff wins closed one of the most historic arenas in hockey: Boston Garden. Curiously enough, their AHL affiliate, my hometown Albany River Rats, swept the Fredericton Canadiens to win the 1995 Calder Cup. Only the 1995 New Jersey Devils and the 1976 and 1977 Montreal Canadiens have won Stanley Cups and their AHL affiliates won the Calder Cup in the same season.
What Followed for the Devils
The Devils won the Stanley Cup two more times over the next seven seasons: in 2000 and 2003. They actually matched their road wins record in 2000. Similar to another cross-Hudson sports franchise, New York Yankees, the Devils had a “core” of their own: Brylin, goaltender Martin Brodeur, defenseman Ken Daneyko, Niedermayer, and Stevens. These five helped the franchise win their three Stanley Cups. (Perhaps there should be a 30 For 30 on the Devils’ dynasty around the corner, ESPN?)
In my mind, though, the best of those teams has and forever will be the 1995 New Jersey Devils Stanley Cup team.
What do you remember about the 1995 Stanley Cup? Talk about it below or talk to Ryan on Twitter: @WhoIsRyanMcC. Belly Up Sports has more hockey coverage, including our hockey podcast Puck Puck Pass and this recent column from our own KJ!